Classroom Placement: Part II – Separate Grades

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I thought that once we’d decided that to place our twins in public school and in separate classrooms, we could sit back and let the kindergarten year unfold.

Some of you may recall that getting M and J into their kindergarten classes was a little stressful. Fortunately, both their teachers turned out to be skilled and committed educators who value their student’s individuality and learning styles.

In her second week of kindergarten, M brought home a list of her week’s homework assignments. J did not. A few days later, J told us that she was the only child in her classroom who didn’t have homework. We contacted her teacher, who informed us that she and M’s teacher didn’t think that their homework assignments would challenge them, and were working with a 1st grade teacher to get them 1st grade assignments to work on. J’s teacher hadn’t realized that M’s teacher had given her kindergarten assignments in the interim.

Before long, J’s teacher told us that both teachers would talk to the school administration about whether moving J and M to 1st grade would be a possibility. I panicked. I didn’t think my husband and I could look at this development objectively. He had been held back in kindergarten, and felt that he was worse off for it. It didn’t help that being held back put him in the same grade as his younger sister. My parents had turned down an opportunity for me to skip 5th grade, and I firmly believe I’m better off for completing school with my same-age peers. I couldn’t see any middle ground, and we were both solid in our beliefs. I took a less-than-mature route, and avoided thinking about the whole thing. Out of mind, out of mind.

As the first 9-week quarter drew to a close, J’s teacher told us that the principal had given J’s advancement to 1st grade her blessing. The decision was ours to make. M’s teacher, on the other hand, told us that she would like to keep M in her kindergarten class. While the academics were no challenge for M, she needed to work on time management. M inherits from me a degree of perfectionism that can be paralyzing. In her efforts to get everything absolutely right, she was having trouble completing her work. Her teacher felt that a year doing schoolwork that came easily to her would help her confidence and her ability to finish things on time.

To me, that answer was clear. There was no way I was splitting my twins into different grades. I spoke to my mommy friends, and they were all of the same mind. Whatever benefit J gleaned from skipping ahead could just as easily be accomplished by providing challenges at home. The potential impact to M’s self-esteem wasn’t worth it. This was a long-term fix for a short-term problem. It wasn’t like J was disruptive in class, or any less interested in learning than she had been before. Skipping the remainder of kindergarten would mean that J would be graduating from high school a year before her twin. No way.

My husband, however, didn’t see it that way. To him, the girls’ twinhood should be a non-issue. The question was not whether J should leave M behind, but whether J would do well in 1st grade. If J wasn’t ready to go to college at 17, she could do an extra high school year.

We went around and around. I wrote up all 19 parts of my argument so that he could respond to each one. He wrote up his 4-point perspective. We both kept “healthy, happy and whole” adulthood for our daughters at the forefront of our minds. Finally, I gave in. I hadn’t changed my mind, but he was much surer in his stance. His belief that J would benefit from being skipped ahead was stronger than my fears of harm coming to both our daughters. The argument that turned me was my husband’s statement that we shouldn’t let our fears hold our kids back when they were willing to try something new.

There was also part of me that gave in because my husband’s duties as a soldier means he rarely has a say in child-rearing decisions. He has been overseas more than he has been home in our children’s lifetime. I make most parenting decisions solo. I try to include him in big decisions, but I often can’t reach him, and whether something is a big decision or not is my call. My mother-in-law is my backup co-parent, but in this case, mommy and grandma came down on one side, and daddy and grampy on the other.

It’s been nearly two weeks now that our twins have been in different grades.

M is flourishing. She and J no longer share recess, and her confidence and self-discipline have blossomed with the realization that J’s old kindergarten classmates are her friends, not just because she’s J’s sister, but in her own right. Because she is the only child in her class who can already read, M gets to be her teacher’s special helper. J gets out of school 45 minutes later than M, so the two of us have a 45-minute block every day that is ours alone, for M to tell me about her day, for us to read to each other, for M to get her extravert time in.

J is doing pretty well. I realized yesterday that she’s unaware that she was the only child to transition classes this quarter, and we’re electing to keep her in the dark. She could use some modesty. They did have to find a new desk for her. She couldn’t see over the ones already in the room. She’s a head and a half shorter than her classmates.

Still, she’s made friends, and is learning that she isn’t always the best at everything. This afternoon was graced with an hour-long tear-storm because J had come in second in her classroom spelling bee. She had wanted to win. While I didn’t exactly enjoy that hour, I think it was good for J to learn that sometimes doing one’s best needs to be a reward in itself.

What with their different grades, their different schedules, and their different haircuts, J and M are definitely not perceived as “the twins” at school. Each of them is seen, liked, and valued for who she is.

I’m not completely convinced that this was the right decision. I spoke to an old classmate from elementary school. He and his twin skipped grades at different times. His message to me read, in part, “On a high level, the pros are that each twin develops their own circle of friends (sometimes overlapping) and that gives each of them a sense of independence. The cons are that the twin that skips usually uses it to create an air of superiority over the other twin (kids being kids and all).”

What would you have done in our shoes?

Sadia earns her paycheck doing geeky stuff at a university. The rest of her time is devoted to raising her 5-year identical girls J and M with her US soldier husband. She’s not sure where she’s from, but possesses British and Bangladeshi passports and an American green card. The family is still finding their way around their new home in El Paso, Texas.

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